As a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 and 2004, it was clear to “Al Meredith” that he would have a hard time representing his country if people knew he was gay.
“It’s gotten better over the years, but America is still homophobic and so quick to judge people,” said Meredith, who asked that his real name and sport not be used because he remains competitive and is not out to his family, teammates or coaches.
“I didn’t want the risk of losing sponsors,” said Meredith, who won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. “I knew a couple of athletes who were also gay, but everybody shows up, remains anonymous, and nobody wants to bring all of the attention on them.
“People don’t want to lose big sponsorships because of their sexual orientation,” he said.
Meredith’s experience also highlights the progress gay athletes and people have made since the early 1980s. While there was no gay-related element to former Atlantan Bruce Hayes’s Olympic experience, Meredith checked out gay bars in Sidney and Athens, and hung out with fellow gay Olympians.
“I met athletes from other countries who, you know, you just discover after being around a person and spending that much time with them,” he said.
Still, Meredith believed there was a small bit missing from his Olympic experience due to his being gay.
“Definitely, you want someone to share those moments with, whether you’re gay or straight,” he said. “Just being able to share those moments of fame with someone that you love and care for, I missed that part of it.”
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